Out of office messages, gmail and mailing lists

Email is pretty much the most annoying necessary evil out there.  Another annoying necessary evil out there is the out of office message.  Normally these aren’t to annoying over all as they let you know that someone that you’ve sent a message to isn’t going to be responding for a while.

Where they start getting a bit of a pain is when you are using gMail and you are on mailing lists, specifically mailing lists that are setup correctly so that when you hit reply the response goes back to the mailing list not to the person who sent the email.  Thanks to the Microsoft MVP program I’m on several of these email lists.  With out of office replies everyone on the mailing list quickly wants to kill you because every time a new person emails the mailing list everyone on the list gets your out of office reply.  When you are on a mailing list of 400 people this gets old, fast.

GMail has an out of office feature but it is “lacking” to say the least.  You basically get to turn it on and off, set dates for auto on and off, set the subject and the message.  The two big options after that allow you to only send your out of office messages to people in your contact list or on your domain.  The in your contact list option in my case is pretty useless.  I get emails from people all the time that aren’t in my contact list and I want them to get the out of office message, and I half the people (if not more) exist in my contact list as I email them off list as well as on (not to mention that I need their phone numbers so I can properly stalk them during the PASS and MVP summits).  So that option is useless.  I really don’t need the last option as the only other person with a mrdenny.com email address is my wife Kris and she knows where I’m at.

So my big problem becomes how to use out of office without all the other MVPs wanting to kill me.

And I’ve found the solution, and without having to move all my mailing list email traffic to a separate mailbox.  First go into the options for gMail and select the “Labs” tab.  Then find the “Canned Responses” option and turn this on.  We don’t care about the main functionality of this feature, but we do care about the fact that this lets us setup a filter and have it send a reply automatically.  So set this “lab” to enabled and click save.

Now compose a new email including just a subject and body of the message.  Then click the new “Canned responses” drop down (next to attachments) and tell it to save the canned response.  Name it something useful like “Out Of Office” or something so you can easily find it.

Then go back into your mail settings and go to the “Filters” tab.  Create a new filter and set the to address to exclude the mailing lists that you are on.  In my case I get email from a couple of different email list domains so I just excluded everything from those domains as you can see in the graphic.  I also excluded myself from the filter as I don’t want to get emailed my own out of office message.  I leave all the other boxes blank and click the “Test Search” button to make sure that everything but your mailing list emails are found then click “Next Step >>”.  On the second page check the new “Send canned response” check box and select the out of office message you just saved.  Then click the “Update Filter” button.  What ever you do, do NOT check the “Also apply filter to N conversations below” (In my case N actually says 12000, your number will vary).  If you check that box before you click the “Update Filter” button you will send everyone that has ever emailed you the out of office message that you just setup.  Not exactly a good way to become popular.

At this point you are done, and you’ve got an out of office setup that will ignore your mailing lists.  This may take a little playing to get right.  There is one thing that the normal gMail out of office does that this technique doesn’t do which is nice.  The normal gMail out of office will only email someone your out of office once every four days where this emails them every time.  That’s a minor annoyance compared to pissing off everyone on the mailing lists that I’m on.

Don’t forget to delete the filter (as there is no way to disable a filter) when you get back from vacation so that you don’t keep sending out of office messages to people.



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